Space Cowboys: An Acting Masterclass

L-R: James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones, Clint Eastwood, and Donald Sutherland in Space Cowboys. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Space Cowboys features a masterclass performance in acting from four of the hardest working actors of their generation.

Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner have quite the filmography with numerous accolades combined. It was only a matter of time before they starred in a movie together. In this instance, it’s as four aging astronauts who never made it into space. Suddenly, their put to the test when they agree to repair a 1950s Russian satellite using technology created by Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood). Together, they’re having a lot of fun on screen. It’s because of the fun that I’m more forgiving about the clichés in the script.

Back in 1958, Frank and William “Hawk” Hawkins (Tommy Lee Jones), both aspiring astronauts, are testing a modified Bell X-2. Hawk, ever the pilot that he is, tries to break the height record but their plane barely misses a Boeing B-50 Superfortress with navigator “Tank” Sullivan (James Garner). After ejecting, the two get into it but flight engineer Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland). Bob Gerson (James Cromwell), their boss, is not happy about the fight nor how many planes they’ve lost recently. One press conference later, the work of Team Daedalus comes to an end as the space flight testing moves from the Air Force to NASA.

Cut to present day, there’s still some resentment between Team Daedalus and Gerson. Imagine having a dream to go to the moon only to lose out on it! When NASA calls Frank in, he basically blackmails Gerson into using his team or else. Nobody gives them a chance but they get the job done. Granted, even the Vice President makes sure it happens because of the publicity. Of course, the satellite repair is not as easy as they thought. It turns out that the Russians lied to NASA–it’s not for communications but a Cold War relic with nuclear warheads! Of course, it wouldn’t be a space thriller without some sort of obstacle standing in their way.

If there’s a part that takes you out of the movie, it’s the opening prologue from 1958. This sequence is what sets the tone for what’s to come and why Hawk and Frank have issues. Instead of just having younger actors play the younger versions of their characters, the five actors–including Cromwell–provide the voices. I can understand why Eastwood decided to go this route but unless you’re doing major CGI work to match their faces, it’s something that just doesn’t work. At least, not in this instance. The technology is definitely there today but even then, it offers both highs and lows depending on the project.

The film earned one Oscar nomination for Sound Editing. In another universe, maybe the four actors would have been nominated. However, they would have probably divided the Academy although going up against Traffic and Gladiator didn’t make it easy. It’s hard to split an ensemble of this nature and given how much combined screen time they have, no one character is a lead actor. But I digress…it’s nice to think about what could have been.

Space Cowboys might not be a top tier Clint Eastwood film but these actors are still a lot to watch in the thrilling adventure dramedy.

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
SCREENWRITERS: Ken Kaufman & Harold Klausner
CAST: Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, James Garner, James Cromwell, Marcia Gay Harden, William Devane, Loren Dean, Courtney B. Vance, Rade Sherbedgia, Barbara Babcock, Blair Brown

Warner Bros. released Space Cowboys in theaters on August 4, 2000. Grade: 4/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.